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12th Sep 2023

Ex Man United coach on difference between Cristiano Ronaldo’s first and second spell at club

Lee Costello


“He came in a lot older and a lot more opinionated.”

Ex-Man United coach Mike Phelan worked with Cristiano Ronaldo at the club during hs first and second spell there, and he explains why they were different.

Ronaldo returned to Old Trafford under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2021, in bizarre circumstances, as it seemed that he was destined to move to Man City, before being hijjacked by the Red Devils at the last moment.

Complications soon appeared when Solskjaer struggled to mange the star’s playing time, and accommodate for his lack of mobility due to his age.

The Portugal captain was still scoring goals, but the balance in the team was upset, and eventually, as bad results started to pile up, the United manager was sacked.

Ralf Rangnick came in as a caretaker manager, which Phelan was also there for, and things only got worse before Erik ten Hag was finally appointed, and the Dutch man saw no place for Ronaldo in his team.

Just before the 2022 World Cup, Ronaldo aired an explosive interview with Piers Morgan where he publicly outed the manager, the club and just about everybody, thus ending his career at Man United.

Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports, Phelan reveals what Ronaldo was like during his second spell at the club, compared to his first.

“The second time round, he came in a lot older and a lot more opinionated, strong-willed,” Phelan added. “He still had massively high standards and was terrific to work with.

“But I’d probably say a tougher mindset. He had been at Man Utd, he had been Portugal’s ever-present, he had been at Madrid.

“I liked it because he didn’t want his standards to drop, he wanted other people’s standards to come up. And sometimes you lose a few people along the way when that happens.

“I remember certain times when he pushed and pushed hard, and he didn’t get much reaction or much response. And there was frustration.

“When you deal with top, top people, it’s about them and where they can finish and where they can get to. They want to look back and go ‘wow, that was successful’.

“And he probably realised, and I don’t know as I never had that conversation with him, that he couldn’t do it at Manchester United. So his challenges were elsewhere.

“He’s still playing international football, yes he’s in Saudi Arabia, but he’s still playing and scoring goals. He is doing all the things we knew he could do at Manchester United.

“But a really good personality, hard-working and challenging. He challenged me as a coach, Carlos Queiroz as a coach and Sir Alex as a manager. But that’s good because it takes you to another level.”

With such a horrible ending, it’s easy to forget the good times when Ronaldo soared under Sir Alex Ferguson, and won trophy after trophy in a long string of success.

“The first time, the challenging part was that Cristiano came to Manchester United knowing in his own mind that he was going to be the best in the world. He had one ball under his hand and the team had another.

“And this was a young kid, one who came from Portugal and was made there, and made that sacrifice to come away from that, where he was comfortable, to a club like Manchester United and learn everything from an English and British perspective.

“He had all the skillset, the mentality – but what we tried to do with [former assistant manager] Carlos Queiroz was we tried to integrate him into the team and he responded brilliantly. His work ethic and practice was fantastic and it rubbed off on the players. They knew there was someone special there.

“In that environment, with the standards so high, the players knew this guy could take them where they needed to go and to go again. He did that brilliantly.”

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